I star in a splashy local sitcom

As watering season dribbles to an end, I feel a little sorry for my neighbors. The curtain is falling on what has to be their major source of live slapstick entertainment. They'll have to wait until summer to watch the next installment of "Shannon's Sprinkler Shenanigans." Time to invest in cable, folks.

"How on earth do you water all this?" a new friend asked, ambling the paths between planting areas and waving her arms to encompass our vegetable beds, berry patches, herb plantings, flower gardens, hedges, and more. "Do you have a sprinkler system?"

"I am the sprinkler system."

We laugh. I don't tell her that I have watering honed to a not-so-fine art. It takes some planning to water our approximately acre-and-a-half planting area. I must sprinkle before the morning winds start blasting, usually around 8.

My arsenal consists of three state-of-the-art overhead sprinklers, a couple of middle-aged overheads, and one small faded, plastic-circle type named "Old Faithful." Our five faucets are each equipped with a complicated array of splitters, hose connectors, and valves. While I haul our many several-hundred-foot-long hoses up and down our sharply hilly property, I must carefully thread them through the plants to avoid smashing a flower or shrub.

I use the kitchen timer to conserve water. When it starts dinging, I start running outside to change the sprinklers to another location, in the hopes of getting one more area watered before the wind arrives.

Is watering a major part of my summer life? Just ask the legions of dinner guests who've suffered through my dissertations on which types of hoses kink (you've gotta hate a kinking hose) and which overheads are prone to the dreaded "sprinkler freeze," in which the sprinkler stops moving, drowning one set of plants while leaving the rest bone-dry.

When people call on a summer morning, they frequently leave messages such as: "You must be out hauling your hoses. Hope they're not kinking!" Could "Best Wishes for a No Sprinkler-Freeze Season" greeting cards be next?

I'm the watering-shortcut queen. As some family members point out, I might have more dignified watering sessions if I were willing to plan carefully and take a few extra steps. For example, I could set the sprinkler in one garden corner more efficiently.

That would mean I wouldn't need to jog, racing to beat the spray, in order to scramble down the steep wooded hill to the driveway - a maneuver that usually leaves me drenched and sliding on my bottom in a rather unseemly manner. (Since this area is close to the road, I've startled many a stroller, biker, and mail carrier. My neighbors, on the other hand, now say, "Hi, what's new?" instead of gasping, "Are you OK?") But ... plan ahead? Not have to race the sprinkler? All I can say to my concerned family members is, "Are you trying to take the sport out of watering? What fun would that be?"

My husband, Craig, gave me a gift: three industrial-strength steel overhead sprinklers. I can barely lift these babies, but boy, do they cover some area. More, they're equipped with timers. Unfortunately, as my audience - I mean neighborhood - knows, if the timer clicks the sprinkler off but the waterer forgets to turn off the faucet, she gets blasted full in the face when she disconnects the sprinkler. This happens frequently when waving at neighbors' cars distracts me.

"So," Craig said recently, "with the sprinkler timers, why do you still use that kitchen timer?" He raised his eyebrows, watching me leap to turn off the dinging.

"The sprinklers turn off, but I still have to move them." I spoke rapidly, glancing at my watch. "And I can hit three more areas before it gets windy if I move them all now. Gotta go!" And I was out of there, marveling that Craig doesn't realize sprinkling is an art form and must be carefully choreographed.

When watering season begins, around June in the Pacific Northwest, I'm thrilled. After all, I get to spend a good part of the early morning outside. The air is fragrantly sweet. I see new sprouts or blooms every day. I watch the flickers, quail, and goldfinches. Sometimes I glimpse a frog or salamander. I wave to my neighbors, who appear to be clustered at their windows with bowls of popcorn, ready for the show.

But by October, hauling the hoses around the property has completely lost its charm. After our second big rainfall, Craig and I spend an afternoon coiling hoses. I feel a twinge of almost-sadness mixed with relief as I settle "Old Faithful" beside her big workmanlike sprinkler brothers on the garage shelf. "You've served me well," I whisper (if I'm alone). "Thanks. See you in June." And then I haul some kindling and logs inside to build a nice crackly fire to warm the autumn chill.

Note to neighbors: The regularly scheduled program, "One-Third of the Three Stooges Waters Her Yard" resumes in June. Don't forget to tune in.

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